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Water news you need to know

A collection of top water news from around California and the West compiled each weekday. Send any comments or article submissions to Foundation News & Publications Director Chris Bowman.

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Please Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing. Also, the headlines below are the original headlines used in the publication cited at the time they are posted here and do not reflect the stance of the Water Education Foundation, an impartial nonprofit that remains neutral.

Aquafornia news SJV Water

Farmers in Tulare County to test groundwater market they hope could help keep them in business and replenish the aquifer

How will selling groundwater help keep more groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley’s already critically overtapped aquifers? Water managers in the Kaweah subbasin in northwestern Tulare County hope to find out by having farmers tinker with a pilot groundwater market program. Kaweah farmers will be joining growers from subbasins up and down the San Joaquin Valley who’ve been looking at how water markets might help them maintain their businesses by using pumping allotments and groundwater credits as assets to trade or sell when water is tight.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

As climate hazards converge, health risks rise in California

State health officials know that extreme heat can cost lives and send people to the hospital, just like wildfire smoke. Now, new research finds that when people are exposed to both hazards simultaneously — as is increasingly the case in California — heart and respiratory crises outpace the expected sum of hospitalizations compared to when the conditions occur separately. … The study joins a growing body of research about the intersection of different climate risks. Last month, California-based think-tank the Pacific Institute published a report about how converging hazards — including wildfires, drought, flooding, sea level rise and intensifying storms — are harming access to drinking water and sanitation in California and other parts of the world. The deadly 2018 Camp fire in Butte County impacted an estimated 2,438 private wells, the report said.

Aquafornia news Daily Tidings

Klamath dam removals: Loss of Copco Lake leaves some residents reeling

The dam removal projects- aimed at sustaining the salmon population, are underway, with the latest drawdown being three reservoirs on the Klamath River. The removal process has already dramatically changed the landscape in Southern Oregon and far Northern California, along the course of the river. The lowest of the three remaining dams- Iron Gate, was initially breached on January 9, followed by the J.C. Boyle reservoir on January 16. A concrete plug in the tunnel at the base of Copco 1 was blasted away on January 23, with the reservoirs draining quickly, leaving vast expanses of fissured mud that was the consistency and color of chocolate cake batter. Shaping its new course, the Klamath River is winding through the bare landscape, but the transformation has had some unintended consequences and saddened some residents.

Aquafornia news The Arizona Republic

Commentary: Water regulation in Arizona has now devolved into a game of chicken

Water regulation in Arizona has devolved into a game of chicken. The governor and farmers are rivals revving their engines, hoping their opponent will flinch first. Caught in the middle is Gila Bend, a groundwater basin south of Buckeye, where the state could decide to impose its most stringent form of regulation, whether folks like it or not. Both sides are using Gila Bend as a bargaining chip to win support for competing legislative proposals. But to what end?
- Written by Joanna Allhands, Arizona Republic digital opinions editor 

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Aquafornia news JFleck at Inkstain

Blog: Senate hearing Thursday on tribal access to clean water: it takes more than just a pile of money

The U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee is holding an important hearing Thursday on S. 2385, a bill to refine the tools needed to help Tribal communities gain access to something that most non-Indian communities in the western United States have long taken for granted: federally subsidized systems to deliver safe, clean drinking water to our homes. … This is the sort of bill (there’s a companion on the House side) that makes a huge amount of sense, but could easily get sidetracked in the chaos of Congress. The ideal path is for the crucial vetting to happen in a process such as Thursday’s hearing, and then to attach it to one of those omnibus things that Congress uses these days to get non-controversial stuff done. Clean water for Native communities should pretty clearly be non-controversial.

Aquafornia news Courthouse News Service

Thursday Top of the Scroll: California judge rules state can’t issue bonds to finance delta tunnel project

The controversial Delta Conveyance Project took a major financial hit this week, after a Sacramento County judge ruled California can’t issue bonds to fund the project. Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Kenneth C. Mennemeier issued a narrow ruling Tuesday about the bonds for the project, which would put a massive tunnel to convey water under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Mennemeier found the California Department of Water Resources’ definition of the “delta program” isn’t linked to the Feather River Project. A bureaucratic connection between the two is essential for the bonds, the judge ruled in the case Sierra Club v. California Department of Water Resources. The department has the power to issue bonds to finance projects under the Central Valley Project Act. The Feather River Project falls under that act. However, for the department to issue bonds for the delta project, it must be a modification of the Feather River Project.

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Aquafornia news Somach Simmons & Dunn

Blog: Delta conveyance project faces stronger headwinds with court ruling rejecting financing scheme and new environmental litigation

Though the Delta Conveyance Project was only recently approved by the Department of Water Resources after completing the lengthy California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process, the project faces new obstacles to implementation. Nine lawsuits challenging DWR’s December 21, 2023 approval of the Project were recently filed in Sacramento County Superior Court by a total of thirty-three plaintiffs representing all the Delta counties, the City of Stockton, environmental and other nongovernmental organizations, and tribe[s]. Resolution of that litigation could take several years.

Aquafornia news Nature Communications

New study: Greenhouse gas emissions from US irrigation pumping and implications for climate-smart irrigation policy

Irrigation reduces crop vulnerability to drought and heat stress and thus is a promising climate change adaptation strategy. However, irrigation also produces greenhouse gas emissions through pump energy use. To assess potential conflicts between adaptive irrigation expansion and agricultural emissions mitigation efforts, we calculated county-level emissions from irrigation energy use in the US using fuel expenditures, prices, and emissions factors. Irrigation pump energy use produced 12.6 million metric tonnes CO2e in the US in 2018 (90% CI: 10.4, 15.0), predominantly attributable to groundwater pumping. Groundwater reliance, irrigated area extent, water demand, fuel choice, and electrical grid emissions intensity drove spatial heterogeneity in emissions. … Previous studies have estimated on-farm irrigation pump energy use at 158 PJ nationally and 136 PJ for electricity use in the Western USA, in close agreement with our estimates. 

Aquafornia news California WaterBlog

Blog: Green sturgeon aren’t salmon – Updated life cycle models for management

Over 65 million years ago, as Tyrannosaurus rex roamed the great plains, green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris) were already roaming the world’s waters. While these ancient fish survived the fall of dinosaurs, they are now in danger of extinction largely due to habitat degradation and losses from water management infrastructure and its operation (e.g., impairing flow, disrupting thermal regimes). While you would think the potential loss of a prehistoric giant (up to 8 feet long and hundreds of pounds) would capture the world’s attention, the imminent sturgeon extinction has unfortunately been under the public radar. Reasons for the lack of attention include their cryptic behavior (moving unseen through deep murky waters) and their late maturity (not reproducing until around 15 years old). These traits make it harder to notice and document population declines. To combat these challenges, we are working on a life cycle model that could shed some light on sturgeon ecology.

Aquafornia news Courthouse News Service

Tesla agrees to pay $1.5 million over hazardous waste violations

Tesla will pay several district attorney’s offices $1.5 million over violations of hazardous waste laws, per an agreement it reached this week in San Joaquin County Superior Court. The payment stems from Tesla’s handling, transporting and disposing of hazardous materials from its facilities in California. Tesla knew about policies and procedures for handling that waste and violated the law by disposing of waste at unauthorized spots. It also failed to determine whether waste created at its facilities was hazardous and didn’t properly label and store it.

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Aquafornia news Holtville Tribune

Salton Sea is ground zero for ‘bird’s’ eye views 

Migrating to all sides of the shoreline like their avian counterparts, dozens of people gathered at the Salton Sea to disconnect from the bustle of weekday life to enjoy some bird watching. A shrinking sea and fewer fish over time has seen a decline in the bird population that once flocked to the sea as part of its trip south on the Pacific Flyway, yet some 10 years into a diminished Salton Sea Bird Festival, visitors are still finding their tranquility and more than enough birds. On Saturday, Jan. 13, visitors seemed to be divided between the north shore and the Salton Sea State Recreation Area in Mecca, while other festival attendees enjoyed the sights of the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge area on the southeastern end by what will come to be known as Lithium Valley. 

Aquafornia news KUER - Salt Lake City

What if Utah isn’t the 2nd-driest state we all thought it was?

For as long as he can remember, Rob Sowby has heard people call Utah the second-driest state in the nation. Over the years, that claim has become nearly inescapable, echoed by everyone from state departments, city governments and water conservancy districts to national news outlets without a clear citation for what data it’s based on. … Now a Brigham Young University civil engineering assistant professor focused on sustainable water supplies, he decided to get to the bottom of it. Using precipitation data, he found that Utah is actually the nation’s third-driest state, behind Nevada and Arizona.

Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

Friday Top of the Scroll: Atmospheric river inundates roads, forces water rescues across SoCal. The next storm looks worse

Heavy rain from a major atmospheric river storm moved across Southern California on Thursday, causing significant flooding and road closures — as well as several water rescues. Even before the storm system had moved on, however, officials were shifting attention to another one tracking not far behind, expected to bring even more intense and sustained precipitation. “There has been some flooding from today’s storm across parts of SoCal, especially in/near Long Beach, but the [next] system has *much greater* potential for more widespread and more serious flooding/debris flows,” Daniel Swain, a UCLA climate scientist and meteorologist, wrote in a post on X. That second storm continues to develop in the Pacific, but the National Weather Service’s latest forecasts show it bringing more rain and wind to the Los Angeles area likely by this weekend, with the potential to cause life-threatening flooding.

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Aquafornia news Sacramento Bee

‘Abnormally dry’ conditions spike as California struggles with below-average snowpack

A Thursday update from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows the eastern slopes of California’s Sierra Nevada are drying — and the lack of snow accumulation could accelerate unfavorable conditions. The second manual snow survey of the water season — which began Oct. 1 — showed moderate improvement to the state’s snowpack but conditions remain “far below normal,” according to a news release from the California Department of Water Resources. A weekly map that illustrates drought intensities across the country shows the state’s “abnormally dry” status spiked more than 6% to nearly 9.5%. Before Tuesday, abnormally dry conditions in California remained in the 3% range since Dec. 5. California has not seen conditions this dry since Aug. 15, when 25.44% of the state was considered abnormally dry.

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Aquafornia news NPR

The EPA is proposing that ‘forever chemicals’ be considered hazardous substances

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing that nine PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” be categorized as hazardous to human health. The EPA signed a proposal Wednesday that would deem the chemicals “hazardous constituents” under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. For the agency to consider a substance a hazardous constituent, it has to be toxic or cause cancer, genetic mutation or the malformations of an embryo. … PFAS have been called “forever chemicals” because they break down very slowly and can accumulate in people, animals and the environment. Last summer, a study by the U.S. Geological Survey found that the man-made chemicals are present in nearly half the country’s tap water supply.

Aquafornia news Press Democrat

$20.6 million in federal disaster aid announced for salmon industry

Northern California’s struggling salmon industry will receive $20.6 million in federal disaster relief, but state and local officials say the amount is far short of what was needed to offset the loss of last year’s entire season. In fact, it is less than half of the $45 million California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office sought for struggling commercial fishers, seafood processors, charter boat operators and others affected by closure of the 2023 season. Five-year averages suggested $45 million would account for basic “coastal community and state personal income,” without taking into account broader economic impacts. David Goldenberg, chief executive officer of the California Salmon Council, said that figure was later revised down to $35.3 million but said he remained “sincerely disappointed” at what he called a “woefully underfunded” relief package.

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Aquafornia news ABC7 - Los Angeles

Here’s how Los Angeles captures and keeps all that rain to save up for next summer

All of that rain drenching Southern California this week has to end up somewhere – and LA County crews are doing their best to hold on to it for when we need it most. The county has 27 spreading grounds designed to capture rainwater and let it slowly percolate into the ground, to be stored and then drawn out for the summer. … Last winter’s intense storms kept the county’s groundwater basins well supplied. It was the county’s seventh wettest year on record in the last 150 years and more than 200 billion gallons of rainwater were captured - enough to supply 5 million people for a year.

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Aquafornia news Los Angeles Times

The planet is dangerously close to this climate threshold. Here’s what 1.5°C really means

The alarm bells are loud and clear. Federal and international climate officials recently confirmed that 2023 was the planet’s hottest year on record — and that 2024 may be even hotter. With a global average temperature of 58.96 degrees, Earth in 2023 was within striking distance of a dangerous limit: 2.7 degrees of warming over the preindustrial period, or 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. … [E]ach additional degree — or even tenth of a degree — of warming will have impacts beyond those already occurring, including increased tree mortality, biodiversity loss, worsening wildfires, longer heat waves, extreme rainfall and heavy floods.

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Aquafornia news NASA Earth Observatory

Tracking the invisible movement of water

As the world looks for sustainable solutions, a system tapping into NASA satellite data for water management has passed a critical test. Called OpenET, the system uses an ensemble of six satellite-driven models that harness publicly available data from the Landsat program to calculate evapotranspiration (ET)—the movement of water vapor from soil and plant leaves into the atmosphere. OpenET does this on a field-level scale that is greatly improving the way farmers, ranchers, and water resource managers steward one of Earth’s most precious resources. Researchers recently conducted a large-scale analysis of how well OpenET is tracking evapotranspiration over crops and natural landscapes.

Aquafornia news Capital Press

Deer, fish die after Klamath River dam breaching

The company removing four dams on the Klamath River to protect salmon and improve river health is reporting the death of significant numbers of non-native fish and an oxygen level of 0% on Saturday as reservoirs drained and silt washed downstream. Meanwhile, the Hornbrook Fire Protection District is reporting the death of at least eight deer that became stuck in muck at the draining reservoirs. One dam, Copco 2, was removed last year, with three to go, beginning with the “drawdown” of water in the three reservoirs behind the other dams. The drawdown began Jan. 11 at Iron Gate, Jan. 16 at JC Boyle and Jan. 23 at Copco 1 dams, all northeast of Hornbrook, Calif. The Klamath River Renewal Corp., which is removing the dams and overseeing restoration efforts, issued a written statement Wednesday, saying the impacts were expected.

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